Winner of the 2021 MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award

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The Medical Research Council (MRC) recognises 10 MRC PhD students for their outstanding writing, announces the winner, and publishes the 10 shortlisted articles.

At a virtual awards ceremony on the evening of 21 October, we recognised the science-writing efforts of 10 MRC PhD students shortlisted for MRC’s annual science writing award.

And the award goes to

Congratulations to Vicky Bennett from the GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership, University of Bath, winner of the 2021 MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award.

Vicky’s winning article ‘Cranberry juice won’t cut it anymore’ is about identifying potential drugs that could be re-purposed to target drug-resistant bacteria that cause urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Ian Tucker, Science and Technology Editor of The Observer, congratulated Vicky on her vivid description of catheter research in the lab, and shared the judges’ thoughts on Vicky’s article saying it was:

Relatable: a gallant way to make unglamorous research interesting.

Speaking about what motivates her research, Vicky said:

To try and do research that’s going to potentially help a wide range of people and lead to better treatments. And improve the situation for a lot of people who currently suffer in many different ways.

For the second year in a row, our media partners, The Observer, published the winning article. Vicky also won a cash prize of £1,500.

Runners-up and commended

This year, there were two runners-up. Catherine Heffner from MRC Doctoral Training Partnership, University College London, won a prize for her article ‘Teatime at grandma’s’. Catherine’s article is about understanding the processes in the brain that go awry in dementia to help towards finding treatments.

And Elisa Brann from MRC Doctoral Training Partnership, King’s College London, received recognition for her article ‘Exploring psychosis using hypnosis’. In Elisa’s article she describes using hypnosis to better understand the mental health condition psychosis. Both received a cash prize of £750.

Two received the commended prize of £400. Well done to Sofia Carozza from MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge. Sofia’s article ‘Shining a light on childhood adversity’ focuses on studying the impact of deprivation on child development.

And congratulations to Paige Street from MRC Harwell, University of Oxford. In their article, ‘Schizophrenia, the gene keeping it in the family’ Paige describes how they are trying to understand how schizophrenia works in order to create better treatments.

A lasting legacy and an evening of virtual celebration

The MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award is our annual science writing competition for MRC PhD students. Now in its 24th year, the award aims to encourage and recognise outstanding written communication by MRC PhD students. It challenges students to explain why their research matters in 1,100-words for a non-scientific audience.

The award is named after the eminent scientist and Nobel Laureate Dr Max Perutz, an accomplished and natural communicator who died in 2002. Dr Perutz was a molecular biologist who founded the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1962.

The 2021 virtual awards ceremony was hosted by award-winning science journalist and broadcaster, Sue Nelson. Joining Sue on the evening were five members of our prestigious VIP judging panel:

  • Dr Furaha Asani, researcher and writer
  • Dr Roger Highfield, MRC Council Member and Science Director of the Science Museum Group
  • Ian Tucker, Science and Technology Editor of The Observer
  • Gaia Vince, journalist, author and broadcaster
  • Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of MRC, and chair of the panel.

Professor Fiona Watt said:

Chairing the Max Perutz Science Writing Award jury is always invigorating, educational, and fun. I’d strongly encourage more PhD students to enter, as I can guarantee that you will learn a lot as you frame your work for an external audience.

The evening also included a talk from special guest speaker, Professor Robin Perutz, son of the late Max Perutz. In his presentation, Robin shared MRC’s decades long history of research in the structures of DNA, proteins and viruses which helped lay the groundwork in our current fight against COVID-19.

He spoke about Max’s passion for communicating science to the public and the importance of stopping the spread of misinformation. He also encouraged the students to keep writing.

Professor Robin Perutz said:

Max would surely have said that [to keep writing]. It’s so important. So, put across science in the best possible way. There isn’t one way, there are many ways of doing it. But keep at it.

A masterful afternoon and a science writing membership

In the afternoon before the ceremony, the shortlisted students had the chance to attend a virtual science writing masterclass led by Dr Claire Ainsworth from SciConnect.

In addition, all 10 shortlisted students received a year free membership from the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW).

Catch up and a bit of light reading

You can read the 10 articles, including the winning article, in our catalogue, The Shortlist 2021.

Hear the motivations and insights from the shortlisted students in this introduction question and answer video to the 2021 shortlisted students. Or watch the 2021 virtual ceremony in its entirety.

Top image:  Credit: izusek, Getty Images

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